Flying-Squirrel and the Seasons
A Seneca Legend
Flying-Squirrel was a poor man. He could kill no game and he didn't know how to get food for his wife and children. One day he sat from morning till evening with his head bent down, thinking what he could do.
That night, just as he was going to sleep, a man came in, and said, "War is being forced upon the people across the lake. They want all the assistance they can get. They have sent for you. You are to start two moons from now."
"I will go," said Flying-Squirrel.
The stranger left and Flying-Squirrel fell asleep. While sleeping he dreamed and his dream said, "I have come to help you. You have promised to go to war. Those people will try to kill you. They will do this to find out how much power you have. I will be there and will save you."
The next morning Flying-Squirrel was low-spirited. He sat with his head down. His wife asked what troubled him, but she got no answer.
At midday he raised his head, and said, "I am going to war, and I am thinking how I am to conquer the enemy."
After telling his thoughts, Flying-Squirrel was no longer sad. When two moons had passed, he took his bow and arrows, and said, "I am going now and I may be away a long time, but I think we will all live."
Flying-Squirrel traveled many days without food or rest, then he said to himself, "I am hungry," but he kept on. Just at midday, he heard a noise behind him that sounded as though some animal were following. He turned and saw ten deer in line. He killed them all, built a fire and roasted the meat. He ate the ten deer and wasn't satisfied. He was still hungry, but he started on. That night, for the first time, he stopped, crawled into a hollow tree, and slept. The next morning he was up early. He felt so much stronger that he wondered how he would feel. if he slept longer. He lay down again and was just falling asleep when someone kicked the hollow tree, and said, "You had better come out and go on. If you don't start soon, the animal that lives in this tree will come and kill you."
"Let it come," said Flying-Squirrel.
Right away he heard a great noise and felt the earth tremble. Then the tree he was in was torn to pieces. Just as enormous jaws were about to close on him, he sprang into the animal's mouth and fell on his back in its stomach. Soon he knew that the creature was running and he thought, "This is pleasant; I am being rocked, and it is nice and warm in here."
The creature traveled for a long time, then lay down. Flying-Squirrel. went to sleep and when he woke up, he thought it must be morning. By and by he felt a movement and he said to himself, "The person who is taking care of me is waking up." Then be knew that he was being carried along swiftly. "Now I am traveling fast," thought he as he rocked from side to side.
While the creature was running at great speed what seemed like a terrible gust of wind swept through him and Flying-Squirrel was blown out. He got up, and, looking saw a great black object going on ahead. Flying-Squirrel thought, "Oh, what a dreadful animal has been taking, care of me!" The sun was in the middle of the sky and he couldn't tell which way to go. After a while he started, as he thought, toward the West, but he went directly North.
Flying-Squirrel traveled many days and nights without food or rest, then he thought, "I am hungry." That minute he heard a noise and turning around saw ten bear in a line. He killed the bears, then built a fire and roasted the meat. After he had eaten the last morsel he said "I've had a meal that will last me a long time, and he went on.
He traveled many moons, resting nights, then be was stopped by a precipice so deep that he couldn't see the bottom. As he stood wondering how he could go on he saw a man coming from the East. The man's hair was long and bright. Then he saw a man coming from the West. His hair was fiery red. As he looked another man came from the South. He had long light hair. Then he saw one coming from the direction he himself was going in. That man had a very long nose.
The man from the East spoke to Flying-Squirrel, asking "Which one of the four will you choose?"
Then the man from the West said to the man from the East, "I am sorry that you got ahead and spoke first."
Then he asked Flying-Squirrel, "Which one of the four will you choose?!"
Each one of the four asked the same question, then the first speaker said, "We have all asked. We don't know which one he will choose, but we will put ourselves to trial and the strongest will be the one to have the care of him.
The bright-haired man said to Flying-Squirrel, "You who have come here are the cause of our fighting, but I warn you to be careful. Should the man from the North conquer, he would devour you. Should the man from the South conquer, he would enslave you. The man from the West is my friend, but he is not as powerful as I am. There isn't much chance of his winning."
"Let me talk," said the man from the West. are proud. Each one thinks that he is the strongest. I have conquered everything I have met. I have been all over the world. I think that I am the most powerful of the four. My friend, whose hair is bright, is not very powerful; all he can do is to give you light. I can do anything. I can aid you in battle. Look at my hair, it is red, covered with the blood of fighting. I shall be sorry if you fail to choose me. I don't know the other two, but I think they are man-eaters."
"Let me talk," said the man from the South, the flaxen-haired man. "I have great strength in jumping, and I am a swift runner. When in war people run away, I can overtake them. The man who comes from the North is a friend of mine, but he is not as powerful as I am. You should choose me."
"Let me talk," said the Northern man. "I am a man of great power. No matter how steep a place is, I can climb it. I can overpower every creature that lives in the water, and all the animals that roam around in this world. Only five things do I fear: the Ancient of Bears, Blue Lizard, Whirlwind, the lee King, and Thunder. I shall be sorry if you don't choose me."
Flying-Squirrel didn't speak.
"Stand aside," said the bright-haired man. "The trial of strength must begin."
"Let us begin fairly," said the red-haired man. "Let this man make his choice before we begin."
"Let us have the trial first," said the flaxen-haired man.
"Let us have the trial first and the one who is the strongest will have the care of the man," said the long-nosed one.
"Now begin!" said the flaxen-haired man, and he sprang toward the red-haired man.
The other two advanced, but the red-haired man drew aside, and said, "Wait! Let us have peace." But, after a little he said, "Very well, we will decide it by fighting. You all know how strong I am."
The three consented. The four clinched and went down, the red-haired man at the bottom. As they struggled he still insisted that they should have peace, but when they hurt him, he got angry and fought in earnest, then the three were powerless. He pounded them, killed them all, then said to Flying-Squirrel, "I told you what my strength was. Now will you have my care?"
"I am on a journey," said Flying-Squirrel. "I want you to help me all you can. I want you to give me power to change myself to any form I wish for."
"I am the most powerful person in the world," said the red-headed man. "I am he whom you call Gásyondetha. I am the oldest person in the world. The three fear me for I have often overpowered them. I will give you power and it will be the same as if I went with you, When you use this power you must say, 'Grandfather you and I have never failed in anything we have undertaken.' I will give you a piece of flesh, from my head and neck and down my back, long enough for a belt."
Flying-Squirrel took his flint knife and cut out the piece of flesh. When he was through, the red-headed man appeared to be dead, but as Flying-Squirrel looked at the wound he saw the edges come together and heal.
That minute the man said, "You see what power I have, I cannot die. As for the men you saw me kill, I only sent them home; they are not dead. Now go in the direction I came from and do all you can to help yourself. The bright-haired man will soon be here and it would not be well for us to be together when he comes. I am going.
The red-haired man leaped into the air, and, giving a whoop, called out, "I am the strongest person in the world! No one can conquer me." As he traveled there were sparks in the air.
Flying-Squirrel felt limber and strong and he ran on swiftly till night came. Then he lay down under a tree. He was almost asleep when he heard footsteps on the dry leaves. Then a voice said, "Flying-Squirrel, I am in search of you. I am sent by the red-haired man. During the night men will come and try to get the belt you are wearing, but nothing will happen for I will be here. Help me gather wood, we must have a fire."
The two gathered wood and made a big fire. As it blazed up they heard one voice and then another and another till there were voices everywhere and those voices said, "Throw away what you have around your waist; it isn't good for you; it will poison you." Their cries increased and their number increased.
Flying-Squirrel said in his own mind, "If the fire wasn't here, that great crowd of people would pounce upon me and kill me." He didn't see these men for they were in the dark. They didn't come even to the edge of the light thrown out by the fire. They cried louder and louder till just before dawn, then their cries began to recede and at daybreak all was silent.
Flying-Squirrel's protector said, "You are safe now. Go on in the same direction. At midday you will come to a fallen tree. I will meet you there."
Flying-Squirrel went on till he came to the tree and passed it. He didn't remember the man's words till he came to a second tree, then he said to himself, "I should have stopped at the first tree," and he was about to turn back when he thought, "What good will it do? I am on a journey. I'll not turn back. If he wanted to give me food, I don't care for it. I'm not hungry," and he traveled on.
When night came, he lay down by a tree. Soon he heard footsteps.
Someone stopped near him and said, "I have come to keep you company. There is a person with me. You may sleep. We will build a fire."
The sun was in the sky when Flying-Squirrel woke up. There was no one around. Those who had come in the night had disappeared. A great many nights passed in the same way: as soon as darkness came and Flying-Squirrel lay down to sleep two men came to protect him and just at daylight they disappeared.
At last he came to a precipice and could go no farther. Then he remembered that his friend had given him the power to change to any form he wished.
"My friend," said he, "I will be a black eagle and go down into the ravine and look around."
That minute he was an eagle. He flapped his wings, flew off, and came back, then flew off quite a distance and began to sink down. After a time he saw that there were trees under him, then he sank as fast as he could and soon was in a beautiful country. He saw a great patch of strawberries. He picked and ate as many as he wanted.
Then, taking his own form, he went on till he came to a house. Stealing up to the house he looked through a crack and saw a very old woman with long white hair. she was sitting with head down but she raised it, and said, "Game has come to me, I smell it."
"This woman wants to kill me," thought Flying-Squirrel. "If she touches me, I'll cut off her head."
A second time the woman said, "I smell game," then she called, "Grandson, come in, why do you stand out there?"
"It seems this old woman is my grandmother," said Flying-Squirrel. "I'll go in."
The woman said, "I heard, a long time ago, that you were coming. You have been invited by my grandchildren who live beyond the lake. I will carry you over there."
This woman was old Caterpillar and she was called the long-haired woman.
"I don't want you to carry me over," said Flying-Squirrel. "I can get there myself."
"Well, Grandson, I have a game that I play with those who come here. We take mallets, go to an opening near here, and run. As we overtake each other we strike with the mallet."
"Very well," said Flying-Squirrel, "but you must lend me a mallet."
The old woman brought two mallets, and said, "Take your choice."
One was good, the other was old, he took the old one, and they started for the opening. Just as they came to the edge of the field, the old woman struck Flying-Squirrel a heavy blow and ran. He ran after her, overtook her and struck her. She fell but was soon up and after him. When she struck at Flying-Squirrel a second time, he dodged and the mallet came down on her knee.
They kept this game up till sunset, then the old woman said, "Let us rest a while." Flying-Squirrel sat down but Caterpillar struck him and ran. This time she went along the edge of a high cliff.
All at once she turned and gave Flying-Squirrel such push that he went over the cliff. He fell into a river and a great fish swallowed him.
Soon he heard a woman say, "Sister, we have caught a fish in our trap. Help me get it out."
These sisters were of the Tip-up (water-bird) family.
The women got the fish to the bank and cut it open.
"Oh, Sister!" cried one of the women, "there is a child in this fish! Hurry and tell our mother to come."
Flying-Squirrel had changed to an infant. When old Tip-up came, she said, "This boy will be my grandson."
The three women took good care of the child. It grew very fast and soon walked and talked.
One day the boy began to cry.
"What is the trouble, Grandson?" asked the old woman.
"My Grandmother," said the boy, "I am lonesome. I want to see my friends."
"Stop crying, Grandson, I will give you something to play with." She gave him a bright red fox-skin of wonderful power. He stopped crying and was happy.
One day the boy said, "I am going into the woods to shoot birds."
The women cautioned him not to go toward the South. He hunted a long time but found no birds, while off in the South, he heard the beautiful songs of many birds. At last he turned and went toward the South. As he advanced, the singing receded. He followed it on and on till he came to an opening and saw a house. He crept up to the house, looked in through a crack, and saw the long-haired woman who had pushed him over the cliff. She raised her head, and said, "Well, Grandson, come in. Why do you stand outside?"
When the boy went in the old grandmother said, "I have been expecting you. I have a game that I play with those who come here."
"Very well, said the boy, for he knew what the game was. "Now," thought he, "I will serve her as she served me.
They went to the opening. After they had struck each Other a number of times, the woman ran along the edge of a high cliff intending to turn and push the boy over, but he overtook her quickly, gave her a terrible push and sent her over the cliff.
"There" said he. "I have thrown her as she threw me. Now I will burn her house."
When the house was in ashes, the boy went home. On the way he killed a turkey. While the sisters were cooking the turkey they noticed that the boy looked frightened.
"What is the trouble, Grandson?" asked the old woman.
"I am afraid you will scold me. I have killed the long-haired woman."
"We are glad," said the sisters. "She has done us great harm. Now you can go in any direction you like. That woman lived in the South and we were afraid she might kill you."
One day the boy said, "I am traveling. I am on my way to war. I cannot stay here any longer."
The women urged and coaxed, but the boy wouldn't listen to them. He started off. After a while, he came to a lake. As he stood looking at the water and wondering how he could get to the other side, he remembered that once he had had the power of flying and he said in his mind, "I will see if I have that power now." Taking, his own form, he went back a short distance, then ran forward and as his feet struck the water he gave a spring and went into the air. He came down and as he touched the water, he sprang again, going forward somewhat. In this way he traveled two days and nights, then reached land. He was hungry. As he looked for game, he happened to think of his belt and that the man who gave it to him promised to help him.
Then he said, "I wish my grandfather would send me a deer."
That minute a deer was in sight. Flying-Squirrel killed it, then built a fire and roasted some of the meat. He ate and was satisfied, thanked his grandfather and went on through a forest.
One morning he saw a light ahead and soon he came to a large opening. At one side of the opening was a village. Flying-Squirrel went to the village and found that the people who lived there were the people who had summoned him to war. The chief said to the warriors, who stood around, "You must test the strength of this man."
The warriors ran at Flying-Squirrel, struck him with their clubs and knocked him down, but he sprang up and fought with them, fought till he had conquered them all, though he had only his hands to fight with. These people were Robins.
The chief of the Robins said to Flying-Squirrel, "I see that you have great power. In the center of our village is a pole covered with ice. Whoever climbs to the top of that pole may marry my daughter. Tomorrow the people will assemble and each man will try to climb the pole."
Flying-Squirrel went to a hut at the edge of the village and asked shelter of an old woman who lived there with her granddaughter.
"I have nothing to eat," said the woman.
"I don't want food," said Flying-Squirrel.
She gave him a place to sleep. The next morning there was plenty of meat in the hut. Flying-Squirrel had wished for it.
He went to the center of the village, where many people were assembled, and just at midday the chief said, "The time has come."
One man after another tried to climb the pole. The first man went only a short distance, the second went a little farther, the third went still farther, and so on till all had tried and had fallen back. Then Flying-Squirrel walked up to the pole, spat on his hands and began to climb. He went up easily, got to the top and called out, "Shall I go farther?"
"No. Come down," said the chief.
The chief thanked the young man, and said, "My daughter is your wife."
The people were angry. They caught Flying-Squirrel, took him to a hole between high rocks and fastened him in. He made a motion with his hand; the rocks fell away. "Why should I stay here," thought he, "I will claim my wife."
Another man had claimed the chief's daughter. Flying-Squirrel caught that man by the hair and cut off his head. The dead man's friends seized Flying-Squirrel, tied him and took him back to the hole in the rocks. When they found the rocks were destroyed, they took him to a second hole and fastened him in securely. He moved his hands and the rocks fell apart.
Flying-Squirrel went to the chief's house, and said, "The next time your people seize me, I will destroy everybody in this village."
Now the people decided to kill Flying-Squirrel by burning him. They piled up a great many logs and dead limbs, leaving a hole in the center of the pile. They caught Flying-Squirrel, tied him up in a bundle, dropped him into the hole and set fire to the pile.
"These people mean to burn me up," thought Flying. squirrel. "I'll wait till the fire gets to burning, blazing up high." After a while he moved slightly; the cords that bound him loosened and fell off. He moved again; fire and cinders flew in every direction.
Flying-Squirrel went to the chief's house and said to his wife, "I warned your father of what I would do if the people seized me again. Now I will destroy you all."
The woman screamed and begged. When the chief came to see what the trouble was, she said, "My husband is going to destroy you and all of our people."
The chief begged him not to do this, called him friend, and said that he did not know what the people were doing, that on the morrow war would begin. At last Flying-Squirrel forgot his anger.
The warriors were to start at midday. Flying-Squirrel did not wait for them. Early in the morning he set out alone. On the way he came to a large flat stone. He sat down on the stone, then ground it to dust with his basswood club. Taking a handful of the dust he threw it West, in the direction of the enemy's country. The dust became a cloud and then a whirlwind and Flying-Squirrel went with it--he was in the center of the whirlwind.
As the whirlwind approached the enemy's village, Flying-Squirrel saw a great many warriors sitting near a large mound. These warriors were of the Ant family. When Flying-Squirrel reached the mound, he plunged into the ground; the whirlwind following him. He ran North and South, went from one end of the mound to the other. The whirlwind killed every man that it passed, threw the dirt into the air and leveled the mound.
Then Flying-Squirrel saw another mound lower than the first but longer; he plunged into it and was half way through when the chief of the Ants and his warriors came and seeing what was taking place began to fight. Flying-Squirrel defended himself, used all his strength and swiftness. Just at midday the whirlwind died down and Flying-Squirrel was left to struggle alone.
The top of the mound fell off. Then the battle was out in the open. Other warriors came to help their chief, but soon Robin and his men came up and with Flying-Squirrel's help, they defeated the enemy, then the chief said to Flying-Squirrel, "You are free now, what we called you for is accomplished."
Flying-Squirrel went to the chief's daughter, and said, "Get ready, we will go home."
They started but after one day's journey they were overtaken by the woman's people. The woman was killed, but Flying-Squirrel got away, changed to an eagle, went to his grandmother's house, and then took his own form. He looked so old that his grandmother didn't know him. She asked, "Who are you and where did you come from?"
When he told her who he was she was glad that he had come. He said, "I am going to my own home. I have a wife and children."
When he started, he changed to a deer and ran with great swiftness, but all at once he was in a hunting camp. The hunters sprang up and followed him, but he was so Swift that after a while they gave up and turned back.
Flying-Squirrel came to a lake and stopped. He didn't know how to get to the other side. He forgot his belt. He started to walk around the lake. The cliff grew higher and higher. He went along the edge of the cliff till he came to loose earth, then he slipped and fell. As he fell he thought, "If I were a bird, I could save myself."
That minute he was an eagle. He flew high and far. Then looking down he recognized the place he was passing, and coming to the ground he took his own form. Going cautiously toward a house he looked through a crack and saw an old man smoking. As he looked, the old man called out "Come in, Nephew. Why do you stand outside?"
"I have found my uncle," said Flying-Squirrel, laughing. "I will go in and see what he wants."
"You have been gone a long time," said the old man, "Now we will play ball."
"That is the game I amuse myself with," said Flying-Squirrel.
The old man's ball was a head, the clubs were sticks split at the end and tied apart with bark strings. They put their clubs against the head. It went toward the old man's inning. Both ran after it. Flying-Squirrel got the ball and hitting it a blow with the butt of his club, said, "You don't know how to play ball."
The ball went to Flying-Squirrel's inning and he won the game. The old man begged for a few puffs of smoke.
"You'll not get them," said Flying-Squirrel. "I would not have asked for them if you had won," and he cut off the old man's head.
Flying-Squirrel traveled on till he heard voices. Then, hiding behind a stump, he listened.
A woman said, "My husband must be dead, if he were alive he would come home."
A second woman said, "Don't cry, my son wants you for a wife. I think your husband has another wife."
Flying-Squirrel made himself invisible and followed the woman. He heard the younger one promise to marry the elder one's son. Then the two parted. The younger woman was Flying-Squirrel's wife.
Flying-Squirrel entered the house with his wife. While she and the children were eating, he made a noise. When she turned to see what caused the noise, he caught up a piece of meat and threw it at her. She thought her daughter threw the meat, and catching up a club she began to beat the girl.
Then Flying-Squirrel took his own form, and asked, "Why do you beat the children? I threw the meat."
The woman was frightened and she promised never to strike the children again. Right away she sent her daughter to tell the old woman that Flying-Squirrel had come home.
Now Flying-Squirrel and his wife settled down in peace. Flying-Squirrel had the belt given him by the red-haired man so he always had great power, and food was never lacking in his house.
The four men described as coming from the North, south, East and West are said to personify the Seasons.
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